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CaMSP February 2017 Newsletter

Mathematics Diagnostic Testing Project

MDTP Recropped

With the transition to Common Core, a new statewide assessment, and new legislation requiring every district to have a high school math placement policy, the stakes are high on getting it “right”. The Mathematics Diagnostic Testing Project (MDTP), a joint venture of the UC/CSU system, has been creating and administering mathematics readiness exams in California for nearly 40 years. Is an MDTP exam right for your district?

History of MDTP

The Mathematics Diagnostic Testing Project (MDTP) began in 1977. According to the Director of the MDTP, Dr. Kimberly Samaniego, Ed.D, Philip C. Curtis of UCLA founded the project with professors from other UC and CSU campuses to better understand the skills of their incoming calculus students. To meet this goal, they designed a test to diagnose gaps in student knowledge. The success of that first test encouraged the UC and CSU systems to fund the formal MDTP workgroup to refine the test and share it between the two systems.

Within a short time, secondary pre-calculus teachers wanted a similar diagnostic test to better understand their incoming students. The Workgroup first released a diagnostic test for secondary math in 1982. Since 1982, MDTP has developed and published numerous secondary mathematics readiness tests ranging in mathematical concepts and skills from pre-algebra to calculus. The Workgroup continues to meet, design, and refine tests. Each test takes between three to five years to be written, field tested, and validated. With the statewide transition to Common Core, the MDTP has launched three CCSM aligned tests in both paper and online versions for Grade 7, 8 and High School. The High School Readiness Test is currently available for field-testing during the 2016-17 school year in classrooms with students exiting Grade 8 or students currently in the first Common Core math course in high school, according to the MDTP Fall 2016 Newsletter.

What is it?

The MDTP system comprises a variety of tests (see the table below) that assess student capacity at various levels of mathematics. The exams are structured by course (e.g. Algebra Readiness; Calculus Readiness) and further broken down by topics (e.g. Data Analysis, Probability & Statistics; Exponents and Radicals).

List of MDTP exams

Elementary Algebra Diagnostic Beginning Calculus Readiness
Grade 7 Math Readiness CAHSEE Preparatory Diagnostic
Grade 8 Math Readiness Calculus Readiness (3 different exams)
Prealgebra Readiness High School Math Readiness
Algebra Readiness (2 different exams) Integrated Second Year Readiness
Geometry Readiness Integrated Third Year Readiness
Second Year Algebra Readiness Math Analysis Readiness

Every test has a number of items across the various topics tested. For example, the Algebra Readiness (AR45A10) has 45 items divided among 7 topics. In each topic, the MDTP has designated a “Critical Level,” which is the minimum number of correct responses that shows adequate preparation in a specific topic. For instance, in the AR45A10 exam, the Decimals topic has 8 items, and the Critical Level is 6.

MDTP tests are administered and scored by one of ten regional sites, or by online providers if the district or LEA chooses to use one of the online providers. Interested districts should contact their regional site to discuss testing options. MDTP site directors provide free on-site workshops and data analysis training upon the request of districts, schools, and teachers. Schools typically receive the results of the paper tests within a few weeks of test administration. Paper-based tests are provided to schools and districts free of charge, but must be scored by the MDTP. Teachers, administrators, or district personnel are not allowed to score tests. Online tests through MDTP partners do have a cost associated with them, and are scored through those partners. The MDTP has recently created its own in-house online system, and currently provides some tests free of charge on that system.

CaMSP experiences with MDTP

MDTP tests can be used in a number of different ways but is designed primarily for diagnostic purposes. The MDTP newsletter includes a 5-Step Framework for Using MDTP Results Formatively to respond to students’ common misconceptions and errors. The MDTP website also presents a series of videos with teachers and administrators speaking about how they have used MDTP tests. In addition, MDTP is currently designing tests to be used as part of districts’ placement policies responding to the California Mathematics Placement Act of 2015 (SB-359). In a few CaMSP projects, PW has observed the use of MDTP in a variety of ways, diagnostically as well as a part of placement policies, and even as a pre-post to analyze student growth. Before adding an assessment to the classroom or school mix, it is important to identify the purpose and the appropriate use of particular tests at a given time in the school year.

MDTP does not endorse the diagnostic tests as a sole measure of placement. Critical levels provide guidance for determining where gaps in student preparation or knowledge may exist, suggesting that a single score is not to be used to indicate that student readiness. That decision remains in the hands of the district or school according to a placement policy.

While research has shown that the readiness tests are a good predictor of success in math courses, raw scores do not tell the whole story about student math skills. Although the MDTP is now developing tests to respond to new placement legislation (more on that below), current diagnostic tests should be used to identify student strength and weaknesses.


• MDTP recommends using readiness tests to help diagnose individual student needs and/or identify topics where entire classes, sub-groups of students, or individual students are not succeeding.


• The tests can also be used as a part of a placement process. Public Works has observed the use of MDTP readiness tests in some CaMSP partnerships as part of the placement process, administering the readiness test for the next math course once, towards the end of the school year, and using those results to help guide placement.
• It is important to note that MDTP tests are not intended to be the only measure of assessment for placement.
• While the MDTP designates a Critical Level by topic, there is no single, final score that determines whether a student is ready for a particular math course.

Student Growth:

• Public Works has also observed the use of MDTP tests used as a pre- and post- test, to analyze where groups of students are at the beginning of the year and either the end of the year or during the second trimester.

New Legislation for 9th Grade Placement

In September 2015, the California State Senate passed SB-359, the California Mathematics Placement Act of 2015. The Act requires that “Governing boards of bodies of local education agencies that serve pupils entering grade 9...develop and adopt...a fair, objective mathematics placement policy for pupils entering grade 9.” The Act further requires that the placement policy:

• Uses multiple objective academic measures of pupil performance;
• Includes one benchmark within the first month of the school year to corroborate placement, and;
• Annually examine placement data to ensure continuing proper placement.

Given these requirements, many districts have already adopted one or more of the MDTP exams listed above to incorporate into their placement policies. Not only are the tests available for free to districts; they can serve as long-standing reliable and valid assessment components within placement decision making. MDTP is now piloting new exams developed specifically for this policy. The exams will assess whether 8th grade students should be placed in Algebra vs. Geometry or Integrated Math 1 vs. Integrated Math 2 in 9th grade.

Possibilities but more guidance needed at local level

With Common Core transition and legislation pushing for districts to adopt formalized placement plans, MDTP diagnostic and placement tests could be a vital part of any district’s plan moving forward. However, districts will need careful planning to ensure that data is used responsibly and appropriately.